Following the death of District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart), Batman (Christian Bale) assumes responsibility for Dent's crimes in order to protect Dent's reputation and is subsequently hunted by the Gotham City Police Department. Eight years after the events of The Dark Knight, Batman returns to Gotham where he must discover the truth regarding the mysterious Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), while stopping the terrorist leader Bane (Tom Hardy) who is pushing the city and its police force to their limits.

A batty swansong to a smart trilogy.

Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film is lumbered with self-awareness, as if the director and all his collaborators felt duty-bound to make Nolan’s final instalment in the saga of Bruce Wayne’s alter ego the biggest, loudest, most relentless comic-book superhero adaptation ever put to film.

The vast, dark psychological backstory has always provided
non-comic-book types with a reason to watch the best of the Batman films.

The result is a sprawling, spectacular veneer over a vacuous core, and it makes the indulgent 165-minute running time a bum-numbing chore.

One can’t begrudge the supremely talented visualist for taking advantage of the budget provided by the Warner Bros brass. But a little more narrative ambition than a mundane 'ticking timebomb’ plotline, some less obvious GFC/Occupy Wall Street-inspired allusions and tighter reins on the plotting would have resulted in a more fitting conclusion, somewhere on par with the far more satisfying second instalment, The Dark Knight.

The story is a relatively simple premise that will be immediately familiar to those well versed in comic tropes. Wayne (Christian Bale) has gone to ground after the events that wrapped up the previous film, but is coaxed out of his hibernation by a cat burglar, Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), who betters his mansion’s security. Of greater threat, however, is psychopathic mastermind Bane (Tom Hardy), who plans to bring Gotham City to its knees in a vengeful torrent of terrorism (lots of anonymous people die in Bane’s orgy of destruction, though Nolan pulls those visual punches).

Batman and Kyle, in her guise as Catwoman, form an uneasy alliance that backfires on our hero, when he is beaten senseless by the hulking, masked madman. Spending a good third of the film out of the Batsuit and trying to escape his Himalayan entombment, Wayne embraces the philosophical teachings of his aged cellmate (Tom Conti) before returning to Gotham to put an end to Bane’s brutal rule.

The entire production is cranked up to grand, operatic levels, drawing upon the vast, dark psychological backstory that has always provided non-comic-book types with a reason to watch the best of the Batman films. But this tactic of playing up the drama to such a pitch also exposes the limitations of Wayne’s/Batman’s emotional issues; by the end of the film’s first act, we are no more enlightened as to the billionaire’s mental state than we were at the end of Nolan’s first film, Batman Begins.

Familiar support players, such as Gary Oldman’s Inspector Gordon, Morgan Freeman’s Lucius Fox and especially Michael Caine’s Alfred, have their moments in the spotlight but are more often at the service of plot requirements. Newcomers include a fine Joseph Gordon-Leavitt as idealistic cop John Blake, Marion Cotillard as the mysterious philanthropist Miranda Tate, local boy Ben Mendehlson as a snivelling criminal powerbroker and Hathaway, whose Catwoman downplays the overt sexiness of Michelle Pfeiffer’s famous incarnation but provides some crucial levity at key moments; her role is reduced to a perfunctory capacity in the film’s second half, to its detriment.

The Dark Knight Rises is an enormous work; Hans Zimmer’s thumping score is loud and relentless; and DP Wally Pfister’s framing is, on occasion, stunning. But Nolan’s determination to hurtle his film forward at such a pace, sacrifices opportunities for the story to 'breathe’ and robs it of coherence and logic. The yin/yang struggle between Bane and Batman (both masked and largely unintelligible when they speak, for starters) is undercooked; the final frames, echoing the ambiguity Nolan utilised so well in the last moments of Inception, are just plain confusing.

The spectacle might suffice for some (the 'Catwoman-on-the-Batbike’ scenes are very cool, admittedly), but even the 'big stunt' stagings carry with them the sensation that we’ve seen it all before; is a truck/car chase finale really the best Nolan and his team of writers could conjure?

To return to the opening thought, The Dark Knight Rises mostly just smacks of entitlement, as if all involved knew they could get away with anything because it is 'Nolan’s last Batman movie’. That 'anything’ manifests as a 'bigger-is-better’ aesthetic, resulting in a third superhero instalment nearly (though not quite) as disappointing as the much-maligned Spiderman 3. The film’s poster tagline is more prescient than I am certain it ever intended to be, but it is right; the Legend has well and truly ended.